News for the Hospitality Executive
by Michael Costa, Hotel F&B
Until last April, there had never been a Hotel Restaurant Week in an American city. That changed when Executive Chef Robert Gerstenecker of the Four Seasons Atlanta decided the cutting-edge cuisine produced at the city’s top properties needed a stage of its own.
Robert Gerstenecker, executive chef at the Four Seasons Atlanta,
helped create a restaurant week concept just for hotels.
Gerstenecker worked with publicist Marsha Middleton to recruit properties for the inaugural Hotel Restaurant Week, scheduled for April to avoid competing with other Atlanta dining weeks during the year.
Restaurants joining the lineup were Park 75 (Four Seasons), Livingston Restaurant + Bar (Georgian Terrace), eleven (Loews Atlanta), Spice Market (W Atlanta–Midtown), BLT Steak (W Atlanta–Downtown), Lobby Bar & Bistro (TWELVE Atlantic Station), Room (TWELVE Centennial Park), The Café (Mansion on Peachtree), Paces 88 (St. Regis Atlanta), and Au Pied de Cochon (InterContinental Buckhead).
“It seemed like a no-brainer,” says Zeb Stevenson, executive chef, Livingston Restaurant + Bar. “We could drive diners from other parts of the city into our restaurant who perhaps wouldn’t normally join us.”
Combining neighborhoods was a key strategy. Someone living in Buckhead, for example, would have a reason to venture downtown and dine at BLT or Room, then could travel to Midtown for dinner another night and Buckhead later in the week.
“Downtown can be a tough restaurant neighborhood,” says Executive Chef Nick Oltarsh, who oversees both Lobby Bar & Bistro and Room. “We probably doubled our business during Hotel Restaurant Week, and it actually made an impact during a typically slow time in Atlanta—Spring Break.”
Other properties registered similar results. Executive Chef Jonathan Jerusalmy at the St. Regis in Buckhead said covers for Paces 88 were up “by 45 to 50 percent. I think the price attracted a lot of people.”
All 10 restaurants offered a three-course menu for $25, showcasing what each kitchen does best and utilizing many ingredients already in-house. “For example, in banquets, we offer a choice of soup, and everybody usually picks the lobster bisque, so we put our lobster bisque on this menu,” says Jerusalmy.
In Park 75’s kitchen, higher cover counts meant “we needed about 30 percent more staffing during Hotel Restaurant Week,” says Gerstenecker. Similarly, at Paces 88, approximately 25 percent more labor was scheduled.
According to Gerstenecker, if there’s a large volume of dishes being expedited, labor costs will be overshadowed by increased revenues— a template for success he wanted to put in motion during Hotel Restaurant Week.
“Our focus is to fill the restaurants, be relevant in the market, and make sure that we’re making money,” he says. “Our industry should be less focused on the percentage return and look more at the actual dollar returns. We’re more successful with additional customers spending less. At the end of the day we have more money.”
Overall, the first Hotel Restaurant Week compared favorably to other established dining promotions in Atlanta, with approximately 8,000 covers served over eight days. “We actually had a better turnout than some of the other restaurant weeks we’ve participated in,” Oltarsh says.
Some properties have seen that momentum translate into repeat business. Those at Park 75 say they’ve tracked first-time diners through reservations made on OpenTable.com during the promotion, and 20 percent—or about 160 new customers—have returned to Park 75 since Hotel Restaurant Week ended. Gerstenecker says those numbers might be higher since many guests didn’t reserve online.
Hotel Restaurant Week will return to Atlanta next year and is expanding to Chicago and Miami as well.
“I don’t think people realize a hotel can be as exciting and engaging as going to a stand-alone restaurant,” says Gerstenecker. “We can be just as important to the local market as we are to our in-house guests, and we’re figuring out how to bring those locals back.”
Michael Costa is industry relations editor for HOTEL F&B.